The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint about an article headed "Tenants' Group Head in Legal Stoush over Email Allegations" in the suburban newspaper, Melbourne Weekly, on 12 October 2011.
Kerrie Byrne complained that the article was unfair and unbalanced because it focused on a defamation allegation by the coordinator of a tenant’s association against her and a fellow tenant, without giving adequate attention to the origins of the allegation and to their side of the story. The coordinator’s allegation, which sought an apology and payment of legal expenses, arose from concerns expressed to the association by Ms Byrne and her colleague that the coordinator had a conflict of interest on key issues being considered by the association. Ms Byrne also complained that the article inaccurately described the basis of their concerns as false, and that the newspaper had not published her letter in response to the article.
The newspaper said that the article was fair and balanced, and that it would have corrected any errors if Ms Byrne had established them. It said Ms Byrne's letter attempted to tell it how the article should have been written, did not demonstrate any inaccuracy or unfairness, and therefore was not published.
The Press Council has concluded that the newspaper failed to give adequately balanced attention to the context and reasons which led Ms Byrne and her colleague to write to the association, especially the explanation of them by their lawyer which was made available to the newspaper. The imbalance was aggravated by the prominent, but apparently incorrect, statement in the article that the coordinator had denied the relationship on which the claim of conflict of interest was based. It might have been redressed if, instead of refusing to publish Ms Byrne’s letter, the newspaper had offered to help edit it or to make it the basis of a follow-up article. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on these grounds.
Relevant Council Standards
(not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. They should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers either by omission or commission" and General Principle 3: "Where individuals or groups are a major focus of news reports or commentary, the publication should ensure fairness and balance in the original article. Failing that, it should provide a reasonable and swift opportunity for a balancing response in an appropriate section of the publication."